Miracles? Seriously?

Oct 04, 2017

Do miracles still happen? The possibility of miracles seems ridiculous to many Christians and non-Christians in western culture. What should Christians believe? Should we agree with the consensus of our culture that miracles are mythological nonsense? Tune in today to the second episode of Ask Away.

User-submitted questions generate the topics we cover on this podcast, so be sure to send us your questions by either mailing us at askaway@rzim.org or by using the hashtag #askrzim on Twitter.

Follow the Ask Away crew on Twitter:

Vince Vitale - @VinceRVitale
Jo Vitale - @Joanna_Vitale
Michael Davis - @mdav1979

Want to listen to this later?


Please Note: Ask Away is produced to be heard, not read. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Michael Davis: Hello and welcome to another episode of Ask Away with Vince and Jo Vitale. I am your host, Michael Davis. Today, we will be covering a topic that some Christians have seen as a matter of embarrassment. This is the idea that God, who has seemingly been so consistent in regards to the laws of nature in our time, would have in the past suspended those laws in acts of miracles. To many in western culture, the idea that believers would hold to the possibility of the miraculous has been seen as worthy of nothing short of mockery. Even some who are professing Christians have begun to distance themselves from the possibility that miracles have ever happened in the past or that they happen today. So, what should a faithful Christian do? How can we defend what our culture states is mythological nonsense. But before we get started, talking about miracles, I heard you guys were actually able to go on vacation with your busy schedules. Jo, can you tell us a little bit about that trip to Thailand?

Jo Vitale: Yeah, that was a little bit of a miracle, but we're visiting my parents who they're working as missionaries for a year out there in Bangkok, so we stopped by, got a little bit of surfing in, saw their church. It was good fun, except we're extremely jet lagged now, so not responsible for anything we say in the next half an hour. Anything could happen.

Vince Vitale: Oh, it was great. It was great to see the work that they're doing out there, doing evangelism with a lot of Buddhists, sharing the gospel to people from all different faith backgrounds. Really exciting stuff. And like Jo said, we got to have a bit of an active rest as well. Her dad, Jonathan and I went to a Thai boxing gym and got a session in. That's an experience I will never forget.

Jo Vitale: It's difference between us. I call it rest, Vince guys for active rest.

Michael Davis: Funny story and then we'll get to the questions I promise. I was in, I actually visited Thailand a while back and there was a guy who was practicing on a beach, the Muay Thai, the Thai boxing.

Vince Vitale: Yes.

Michael Davis: And he was just kind of showing me some stuff and then he hit my shin with his shin. He wanted...And I literally almost fainted in pain. It was, it's like their shins are made of steel. It's insane.

Vince Vitale: Those guys are tough. They got a lot of weapons, knees, elbows, fists, feet. I didn't know which way to duck.

Jo Vitale: We got some good footage, so I could definitely be bribed into releasing it on YouTube if I get enough requests.

Michael Davis: How about this, if you guys submit a question, there'll be a contest to see who gets to see a picture of Vince getting beat up by a Muay Thai fighter. That'd be awesome. Okay, let's get to our first question and it's a pretty interesting one. Why should we take the Bible seriously when it's full of crazy stories like a burning bush, Jesus walking on water, turning water into wine, and a virgin birth? Aren't these just fairytales? Isn't a scientific way of understanding the world more rational?

Vince Vitale: Good objection. And my mind is just going back to the first time this was presented to me. I was an undergraduate student studying philosophy. I had come to faith and I was eager to share Jesus with other people and I started to exchange emails with a professor of the history of science at Princeton. And in one of his emails back to me, he listed a number of reasons why he felt he couldn't believe in Christianity, and then at the end of the email, as if to sort of trump all of his other arguments, he said, "Nor can I believe in a virgin birth." And the idea was just, it would be so silly and so crazy and so outlandish to believe in such a thing that on its own that was an argument against Christianity. And I can remember sitting there at my computer for some minutes and just thinking, how am I going to respond?

How can I convince this person, who's an atheist, that actually it could be rational to believe in a virgin birth? And then the more I thought about it, I realized that actually I didn't need to convince him of that, because he already believed in a virgin birth. I believed in the virgin birth of Jesus, but as an atheist, he believed in the virgin birth of an entire universe. And so I think oftentimes we don't see this. We don't see...We assume that the burden of proof is on Christianity. We don't realize that other ways of seeing the world may have beliefs as extraordinary as the beliefs of Christianity, and the Reading-Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking, this is what he says is the best explanation of the universe from an atheist perspective. He says, "The universe created itself out of nothing." Well, that sounds a lot like a virgin birth to me.

Or here's what the atheist philosopher, Quintin Smith says, I wrote this down for you. Just listen to it. He says, "The fact of the matter is that the most reasonable belief is that we came from nothing by nothing and for nothing. We should acknowledge our foundation in nothingness and feel awe at the marvelous fact that we have a chance to participate briefly in this incredible sunburst that interrupts without reason the reign of non being." Is that not a virgin birth? Christianity is not the only worldview that makes some extraordinary claims, that makes miraculous claims. Atheism believes that something came from nothing, that order came from randomness, that life came from non-life, that consciousness came from non-consciousness, that we started with a nonmoral beginning and somehow wound up with moral greatness and moral atrocity. I think atheism as well has plenty of miracles that need explaining. So anyway, in my life, I came to the conclusion that we live in a miraculous world. Whether you're a Christian, whether you're an atheist, whether you're an agnostic, I don't think there's any getting around the fact that we live in a miraculous world. It's not a matter of whether we believe in a virgin birth, it's just a matter of which virgin birth we believe in and whether or not there's good reason or good evidence to believe in it.

Jo Vitale: That was the question that Vince was wrestling with from a young age, actually when he was five years old, he submitted on Christmas into the fireplace a paper plate with the word...This is what he wanted for Christmas. It was just the answer to the question, Dear Santa, and God, was God ever born? So, philosophy studied young for him.

Vince Vitale: The only Christmas gift that requested I never got from my parents. They didn't know what to do with that.

Michael Davis: I just asked Santa...Or it was actually a Hanukkah Harry for a...Like I said, Jewish. For Splinter the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. So, you were definitely way more advanced than reasonable request.

Jo Vitale: Just wanted a pony. Anyway, back to the point, but I think that sometimes we have this assumption when we're reading the Bible that...We have a sort of chronological snobbery where we think the people in the past, they were just a bit stupid, that they're naive. Maybe they're just more inclined to be gullible, but actually, I mean these are people who are quite capable of looking at the world around them and seeing how things typically work and recognizing when something is behaving in a way that isn't according to the laws of nature and particularly that when you look at Jesus's disciples as like they're a group of people running around looking for sort of a mystical experience or trying to find a guru who's going to lead them on some adventure, they're actually just a bunch of normal kind of salt of the earth skeptical fishermen. And what I love is that the interaction we see between Thomas at the end of John's Gospel when he says, "Alas, I see the wound in Jesus side and the scars in his hands, I won't believe." He's very pragmatic.

He's not willing to leap at miracles for the sake of believing something. He wants to see it with his own eyes. And I think also we need to recognize that these disciples who are claiming they've seen Jesus perform miracles, that there's a cost to that for them. Not only because they're devout Jews who believe God will judge them if they're lying and saying all these things about him that aren't true, but also there was a cost to them in the life they were living. I mean, most of them were martyred for the claims they were making. So, it's not that they're inclined towards believing miracles for the sake of them, they're just looking for something to latch onto. They were clearly compelled by what they saw in the life of Jesus, not only his resurrection from the dead, but also in the way that he was living. The miracles he was performing. They were seeing something that led them to believe, wow, that this is more than a man. There's something divine about this person.

Vince Vitale: Yeah. And I think that's great that the Bible doesn't just ask us to take miracles on blind faith. I can remember as a skeptic myself reading through the Bible and coming across a passage in Acts 17 where it says that the Bereans, the people of Berea, were more noble than the Thessalonians because they examined the scriptures every day to determine if what Paul was telling them was true. And I took great encouragement in that, that this wasn't a text that was asking me to just believe extraordinary things blindly, but it was asking me to examine them every day and determine if what I was being told was true. And I was just thinking, Jo, back to what you said at Christmas time when I asked was God ever born, isn't it an interesting that when a Christian says that nothing is the answer to where God came from, that God wasn't created by anything.

People like Richard Dawkins, for instance, will mock at that. And yet if you turn around and ask him where did the universe come from, it would be the exact same answer. Nothing. But they're okay with that conclusion. So, there's a something of a principle there for us in general. Sometimes when, as Christians, if we get questions or objections that are intended to make our beliefs seem crazy, sometimes just turn that question around and say, "Okay, you don't like how I...Where I say that the universe comes from, well, how do you explain where the universe comes from?" And you may find that actually we're on much more level footing than you think.

Michael Davis: One of the things I wrestled with as a nonbeliever was kind of my origin and talk about the miraculous. From an atheist perspective, not just the origins of the universe, but the origin of me. If everything is just random happenstance, my existence in this world, my consciousness existing, I just couldn't reconcile myself to that. The fact that that one sperm and that one egg coming together was the only reason why I exist, and there was literally no reason for it. So I mean, our very existence is miraculous. And I think that sometimes if we just stop and think about just from the day to day, our very just being and how miraculous it is without...We see this type things every single day.

Vince Vitale: Oh, you're so right. I mean, right now, the three of us, and many who are listening, we're sitting on a rock that's rotating at a thousand miles an hour, flying around the sun at 67,000 miles an hour as part of a galaxy. It's being hurled through the universe at over a million miles an hour. This galaxy, that's a hundred million light years in size. It's utterly, utterly remarkable. And we just so often just walk around with our heads down as if that's just a natural kind of scientific thing that we should not think is extraordinary. It's utterly, utterly remarkable that we're here at all, that the universe is so finely tuned that we could exist as a people. And then, like you said, Michael, that each one of us specifically could exist. When you think about all of the circumstances that needed to interact for our specific parents to meet each other and to conceive just when they did so that just we could come to exist. If God exists, what does that say about the way he must feel about each one of us, if he's made that many things intersect so that we could have life?

Michael Davis: Absolutely. So, let's go to the next question. “If Jesus performed many miracles, why didn't everyone who saw those miracles believe in him?”

Jo Vitale: What I find so fascinating about this question is actually people often ask, what is the evidence outside of the Bible that Jesus existed? And one of the pieces of evidence we find is in the Talmud, which is Jewish legal code, and amazingly, what this code says about Jesus is actually that he was put to death for practicing sorcery and for leading Israel astray. So, what's so interesting about this is outside the Bible we have a reference to Jesus performing things that can't be explained in naturalistic terms. And therefore he's called a sorcerer and it said he leads people astray precisely because of the sort of miraculous things that he's doing. So, my point here is it's not that people didn't think Jesus was performing miracles, but it was more that people couldn't accept the fact that he was performing them on behalf of God.

They didn't like the conclusion that might lead to what were the miracles pointing towards? What were they a sign of? And therefore people ascribed different motives. So, they say it's sorcery, they say it's magic, they say it's satanic, it's of the devil. So, I think that's fascinating to me, because often I think we assume, ah, if I saw a miracle, then I'd believe in the truth of what someone's claiming, because the miracle would back it up. But often, we're not willing to go there, and I think it raises the question of would it just take a miracle or actually do we have other motives going? What is the disposition of our hearts? Are we actually willing to accept miracles? People say, "I'd believe in God if I just saw a sign written across the sky." Is that really true or do we find other ways to justify things because we don't want to accept what we might be seeing before our eyes.

Vince Vitale: Yeah, I was just thinking how amazing to turn this question around again. The question, if Jesus performed many miracles, why didn't everyone who saw those miracles believe in him? If Jesus didn't perform many miracles, why is it that so many people did come to believe in him and still believe in him today? I mean, one of the answers to the questions is to say, well, many did, thousands at a time came to believe in him we see in the scriptures, and we know that it's true because of the way that that grew. I mean, within 300 years it's the predominant belief system of the Roman Empire and now we're sitting here 2000 years later and there are billions of people who believe in this carpenter from the first century. If Jesus didn't perform miracles, how do you explain that? I think the fact that he did perform miracles is the only way to.

Michael Davis: Absolutely. One of the things we have to realize is that if you look back at some of the other religions, it was a single man writing codes of living. Our religion, Christianity is literally based on the claims of a person who said, "I am God and one who was crucified and then raised from the dead." There is no reason that Christianity should exist unless it was true. The fact that, to your point Vince, that Christianity exploded in such a way only further solidifies the fact that these miracles did in fact happen. I would also like to add the story of the rich man in Lazarus, because when the rich man was in hell, and he basically is begging Abraham to go talk to his brothers to just convince them to repent, what he said was, he says, he said, and this is Luke 16:30, and he said, "No, Father Abraham. But if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent." And he said to him, "If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead."

The reality is that we will find many, many justifications to explain away miracles even if we see them, and that's the point. Many did believe, but just from our fallen nature, there are going to be people who will see things that are so clearly miracles, but will not be able to understand, because they don't want to, and they don't want to deal with implications of believing that these miracles are true.

Vince Vitale: Yeah, I think that's right. Even if God rose someone from the dead today, if you're listening, if you're skeptical of Christianity is a good question to ask yourself, would you actually believe in something that clearly points to a miracle or would you find some way, any way of explaining it a way in naturalistic terms? And then to Jo's point as well, even if you did come to believe, that's not the same as the biblical notion of belief, which is probably best translated trust. It's one thing to just come to believe intellectually that a miracle took place, or even to come to believe intellectually that Jesus is who he claimed to be. It's another thing to actually embrace Jesus as one savior, as one's friend, and to enter into a relationship of trust with him. No miracle can do that for us. A miracle can point us to who Jesus is, but we personally have to decide whether or not we want to trust him.

Michael Davis: Absolutely. Okay. The next question that we have, and this one's a doozy as they say.

Jo Vitale: They say that?

Michael Davis: No, they don't say that.

Jo Vitale: What does that mean?

Michael Davis: Maybe back in the...

Jo Vitale: It's just Americanism.

Michael Davis: Forties maybe. It's a big question.

Jo Vitale: We'll talk about that next time.

Michael Davis: We are professionals. We are professionals. “Why do you think that miracles don't happen as much today as they used to, or that they were spoken of in the Bible. For example, why aren't people miraculously healed?”

Vince Vitale: This question...I'm tempted to answer it this way. I actually think God does perform miracles all the time today, and I wonder, do we...Are we looking for them or do they so often pass us by? I remember leading an Introduction to Christianity course at a church in Oxford in England number of years ago, and in one of the sessions I was to ask the group of skeptical seekers whether or not they had ever experienced anything that could be miraculous. The question was something like, have you ever experienced something that has made you think there might be a God? And I can remember thinking to myself, oh boy, we're really going to struggle for conversation in this session, right? I'm going to ask that question, and these are not believers. So, they're not going to have anything to say, because if they had experienced a miracle, then they would believe, so they're not going to have anything to say, and we're going to sit there awkwardly and stare at each other all night.

And I asked that question, and there was initially a kind of lull of silence, but I found that if I waited long enough, one person said, "Well, there was this one time when," and then they told this incredible, miraculous story that had God's fingerprints all over it. And I'm thinking, wait a minute, you're telling me you don't believe in God and you've had that happen to you. And I also found that as soon as one person shared that story, all of a sudden all the other people around the table started to share their stories as well. And I found...I came to the conclusion that actually at least a number of times, God has reached into each person's life in a miraculous way, but we bury those things and we explain them away and we convince ourselves that we're the only ones who have a crazy story like that, so I'd better not tell anyone else, because they're going to think I'm nuts.

Whereas the reality is that if we share those stories in an environment where people are comfortable to share, everyone else comes out of the woodwork as well and has some amazing stories. So, I've come to the conclusion that actually you ask that question enough and you will find that God is acting miraculously in this world all of the time. We tend to explain it away. We tend to hide it, we tend to be too intimidated to share it, but he is acting miraculously and he's asking us to respond to that.

Jo Vitale: Think it's a challenge for all of us, because it makes you ask the question, what does your prayer life look like? What are you actually asking for? Jesus says you don't have because you don't ask. And sometimes I think so much materialism, whether we'd like to admit it or not, that kind of materialistic view of the world really seeps into Christian culture. It seeps into the church and we're just not expectant for what God might be doing supernaturally and miraculously. But I think...So, for Vince and I, we've seen God do miraculous things. We have a lot of friends who've seen God do miraculous things. I think, but sometimes the struggle is why sometimes and not others. I remember, I spent a year...In England, we often do something called a gap year where you take a year out between school and university and go and do sort of missions work somewhere.

And every week on my gap year I was spending time visiting a hospital and praying for the sick. And during that year I did see a child miraculously healed in the most amazing way in front of our eyes. But the...And on the one hand, you really celebrate that when you see that happen, but at the same time it was also, in some ways it was then harder because there all the other people you're praying for who we then didn't see healed. So, it was this sort of experience we were like, Lord, I'm struggling to know...What do we make of this? I think it raises for us the questions of fairness. Is God fair? Why does he heal some people when we pray and not others? And the temptation is to think, does God love one person more than the other? Or are their prayers just more impressive somehow?

But I don't think that is what these things come down to. I think for us as Christians, it's almost learning to see things from that eternal perspective of actually the fact that the greatest miracle God can do is the conversion of the heart, is actually the resurrection of bringing somebody from death to life. And those kinds of miracles, he's performing all the time. And think about it, when you pray for somebody to be miraculously healed, and I do pray those prayers for people, but even if God grants that, then they still get a few more decades maybe and then they're still going to physically die. But the real thing that we all long for is eternal life, is life with God. And we were praying for a dear friend of ours, he was very ill and it's very serious.

And when we first began to pray for this friend, we were crying out to God and saying, "God, please will you save him?" And the immediate thought that came to both Vince and my mind as we we’re praying, was the response in our hearts of God saying, "What? I already have. I already have saved him." It doesn't mean we're not continuing to pray, it doesn't mean we don't want to see healing in this lifetime, but how amazing that from eternal perspective, we can say, God has worked miracles and there's a security within that, that we don't know how God will answer those prayers, whether it's in the immediate, the now, or the not yet, we just don't know. But we can trust that God does hear those prayers and that he is a miracle working God.

Vince Vitale: Yeah, that is wonderful to be able to pray for our friends with the utter confidence that God will heal. Like Jo said, we don't know the timing of that healing and sometimes that's frustrating, but we actually know that because he's trusting in Jesus, he will be healed in this life or in the next. And we know that we can trust Jesus with that, because he's a God who came down here and suffered the things that our friend is suffering and the things that we all suffer. And so we know that we can trust him, because we know that he was loving enough, the only God who was loving enough to come down and suffer with us. And so we can trust that healing will take place, either in this life or in the next. And just to affirm also what you said Jo, our greatest need for healing is a healing of the heart, is for a new heart, is for a new life, is to be a new creation.

And I think we vastly underestimate the miraculous nature of that. If somebody has a physical healing, we call it a miracle, but if someone becomes a new person in Jesus, is that any less of a miracle? I mean, what is easier for there to be a physical reformation of someone or for there to be a spiritual, moral, psychological reformation of someone. To me, that's the even greatest miracle. And I was thinking the other day about how, with alcoholics anonymous, you always say who you are and then you say, and I'm an alcoholic, and alcoholics anonymous does such incredible, incredible work and yet even when transformation has come through that process, you still refer to yourself as an alcoholic. And I think, wow, the miracle of new life that Jesus offers where you actually become a new person, you give...Are given a new heart.

The old has gone, the new has come, you're a new creation and you're not the same person that you once were. And countless Christians can testify to that. I can testify to that. I would never, not once ask for forgiveness as a non-Christian. I hated asking for forgiveness. It meant that I had been wrong, that I was not lovable, that I wasn't worthy, wouldn't even go near it. And as a Christian, God completely transformed that. Took, probably to Jo's annoyance, I've fallen in love with asking for forgiveness and I ask it over and over and about things that are so minor. You just annoy someone by asking it, but I've fallen in love with asking forgiveness, because I've received the forgiveness of God and I just delight in receiving that from others as well. That that's a miracle. It's a miracle of new life and I think sometimes we vastly underestimate that as well. That's the greatest miracle, is the miracle that every one of us needs to receive a new heart and God is doing that all the time, every day in countless lives.

Jo Vitale: Michael, when you came to faith, do you think...Do people kind of recognize something miraculous had happened in the change in you?

Michael Davis: Oh, I think my family in general, they think I'm insane. I think that, especially my mother. So absolutely. When you look back at who I was before and my anxiety and my constant desire to better myself, whether it was in my career, in my family life, there was always a longing there. I am a completely different person. My worldview completely changed. I was completely bought into the sexual revolution, the...In regards to I was, I mean I was pro-choice. In an eye blink, I was a completely different person, and it is something I can look back on and it's like that is an unbelievable miracle. And actually the story, when you were talking about how much easier it is to do miraculous healing, the story of the paralytic just kind of just...And, it might've been intentional, but Jesus even said, which is more impressive, forgiving sins or...It's like, I'm going to heal this person to prove that I can and I do have authority to forgive sins, but Jesus knew that forgiving our sins, making us new was the...Like I said, way more impressive than having any type of miraculous healing.

I'd also like to add one thing in regards to our perception of God and our...A lot of people see God as almost like a genie and they have this flawed idea that they know better than God. Our view of the world is so limited. We're like ants on a ground and God is infinitely...Has got better perspective than we do in context. We should never presume that we know better than God. If God does not heal, if God does not answer our prayers in a specific way, we have to understand the answers to our prayers will always be yes, no, later, and I've got a better plan for you. And we should have faith in that.

Vince Vitale: Yeah, yeah. No, I think that's right and great connection as well with the paralytic. If I woke up tomorrow and I could run as fast as Usain Bolt, we would all say, "That's a miracle." And the reality is that what God has done in my heart and your heart and Jo's heart and countless other hearts, it's so much more of a miracle than that. So, we're exactly backwards in the way that we appreciate what a miracle is and isn't.

Jo Vitale: Makes you think of Psalm 119, "I will run in the path of your commandments, because you've set my heart free."

Michael Davis: Well, that is a great way, an upbeat way to end the show. Vince, sum it up for us.

Vince Vitale: Well, how to sum this up. I think maybe the thing to take away is that we live in a world of miracles. So often we think we live in a natural world and then we look around for the supernatural once in a while. I think it's the exact opposite. We live in a supernatural world. Everything around us is supernatural. The fact that we're sitting here right now, the fact that we came to exist, the fact that we're breathing the regularity of the universe, the fact that the strength of gravity stays the same today as it was yesterday and it will be tomorrow, there's no natural explanation of that. That's just the gift and the providence of God that he wants us to live meaningful lives and coherent lives. So God is doing miracles all the time. Some of them he's doing every day, some of them he's stepping in specifically to speak to us with love and with power on a more occasional basis, but just keep our eyes open. Let's look around, let's see the miraculous nature of our lives and the world that we're living in and whenever we do, let's turn that back to praise of him.

Michael Davis: Very good. Guys, thank you again for joining me and thank you all for tuning in and we'll catch you next time. Thank you. Please submit your questions by emailing us at askaway@rzim.org or by using the hashtag #askRZIM on Twitter.

Every article, podcast, and video on this website is made possible by the kindness of our supporters.

If you'd like to support our mission of sharing a thoughtful Christianity to the world, you can donate through our site.

Find more thoughtful content on these topics in RZIM Answers.

Get our free , every other week, straight to your inbox.

Your podcast has started playing below. Feel free to continue browsing the site without interrupting your podcast!